London's towering SHARD is a microcosm of everything that's wrong in the world

Aditya Chakrabortty writes in The Guardian about the Shard, a titanic building that already towers above London, and explains how it is a microcosm for everything that's wrong with the world today:

So one of London's most identifiable buildings will have almost nothing to do with the city itself. Even the office space rented out at the bottom is intended for hedge funds and financiers wanting more elbow room than they can afford in the City or Mayfair. The only working-class Londoners will presumably bus in at night from the outskirts to clean the bins. Otherwise, to all intents and purposes, this will be the Tower of the 1%.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Shard is that it simply exemplifies a number of trends. First, it merely confirms how far the core of London is becoming, in industrial terms, a one-horse town. Finance, which began in the Square Mile, has now spread to Docklands to the east, to Mayfair in the west and now to the South Bank.

Second, it proves that buildings are no longer merely premises owned by businesses, but are now chips for investment. What's more those chips are increasingly owned by people who barely ever set foot in the country. A study from Cambridge University last year, Who Owns the City?, found that 52% of the City's offices are now in the hands of foreign investors – up from just 8% in 1980. What's more, foreigners are piling into London property at an ever-increasing rate, as they look for relatively safe havens from the global financial turmoil. And yet, as the Cambridge team point out, the giddy combination of overseas cash and heavy borrowing leaves London in a very precarious position. Another credit crunch, or a meltdown elsewhere in the world, would now almost certainly have big knock-on effects in the capital.

The Shard is the perfect metaphor for modern London

(Image: Shard from the Hostel, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from tolomea's photostream)


  1. Nothing could be worse for the London skyline than the swollen, tubular, rather vase-like structure. Anyone know what the story of that one is?

    1.  I think I saw that one from the London Eye last week. Is it the one that currently has the central core build higher than the rest of it, making it look like some kind of pump or hydraulic thing?

      1. I quite like it, although I don’t live in London so I’m not sure what I’d think of it as an addition to the skyline. I do object to the term ‘Erotic Gherkin’ though, as it doesn’t help the UK’s image of being like a group of giggling schoolgirls who’ve just heard a naughty word. Sometimes a gherkin is just a gherkin (sorry, building)

      2. Yeah: “oh someone is complaining about a new building in a city?  Fetch my fainting couch!”  

        Cities change & buildings come & go.  If they don’t, that means the city is dead.

    2. It is a rocket.

      Don’t you see how closely it resembles a Vostok launch vehicle?

      The simplest explanation for this is that it _is_ one.

      It is a rocket.

  2. “Otherwise, to all intents and purposes, this will be the Tower of the 1%.”

    As opposed to all those London landmarks for the 99%, like Buckingham Palace.

      1. well there was a guy once famously in the 80s who just waltzed into buckingham and had a chat with the queen. and just a few weeks ago some crazy free climber just went all the way to the top of the shard, pointing out huge holes in their security management. 2-5 people for the whole site overnight.

        then they discovered a fox on the 33rd floor or something…no idea how it got up there.

        1. then they discovered a fox on the 33rd floor or something…no idea how it got up there.

          Probably a Foxton’s rep.

        2. a guy once famously in the 80s who just waltzed into buckingham and had a chat with the queen.

          Michael Fagan. A drunken journalist once told me that ‘all of Fleet Street knows that he raped the Queen’.

          1. I can’t help feeling that if that were true Fagan would almost inevitably have suffered a fatal ‘accident’ at some point.

    1. No, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong! That hubristic pyramid-phallus is the symbol of an authoritarian regime so enraptured by its own fantasies about how economics actually works as to be blinded to their practical and ethical failures and almost wholly dependent on outside financing for the continuation of the self congratulatory pageantry.

      The tower we are talking about is, um, totally different.

  3. There aren’t enough intimidatingly visible CCTV cameras crudely tacked on to the exterior for it to be truly emblematic of London…

  4. Same thing about the Freedom tower – it’s being financed with Public funds , yet it’s not creating ‘affordable’ housing or business rentals, and instead will be in the high end of luxury.

    1. Pretty much agree.  Heck, a ton of NYC is like this now in smaller degrees: Small glass towers dedicated to finance or delusion.

      Has anyone seriously looked that the New York Times new/modern headquarters in Times Square? Tall & shiny memorial to dead trees.

    2. Except that skyscrapers are an excellent way to efficiently pack people in large cities. So all those elites, who would have otherwise bought or renter property elsewhere in the city (driving up prices even further) go here instead.  

  5. Babylonian ziggurat towering over city, where the king and priestly caste rule.

    Or: “One does not simply walk into…” etc.

    Or: “Mr. Deckard, Dr. Eldon Tyrell…”

  6. Although derided by the UK presses, Prince Charles  has alot of good ideas about their poor excuses of contemporary architecture in his book:

    Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World

    Most notably on what is missing from those statements from our modern ‘life’.

    1. Prince Charles should stop talking about architecture and stick to organic farming.
      As an architect i can tell you that the discourse in architecture is already polluted enough by blowhard architects themselves. No need for a degenerate aristocrat to chime in. 

      1. God forbid that somebody who has to look at this crap should offer an opinion.

        1. He’s referring to a public figure with no suitable credentials speaking from a position of influence, not public input.

          1. A public figure who was motivated to poke his nose into this issue precisely because architects have been ignoring the feelings of the public and destroying cities with hideous monstrosities all over the world, including Britain. 

          2. At least the Prince of Wales can legitimately claim to be a Londoner, unlike the foreign royals who bankroll this stuff.

          3. ocschwar.
            When excactly in the history of Britain have the feelings of the public mattered more than now? There is a lot to criticise with architecture as with anything else but we live in the most participatory times not in the least.

        2. I actually enjoy non architects opinions much more than the ‘informed’ opinions from my own tribe. I agree there is too much ivory tower attitude in certain circles.  
          With Prince Charles it’s not about his opinions and that he may be right about certain things. It’s his reactionary nostalgic ideology which is not the answer to the present and future problems of our cities.

          1. There’s something to be said for a return to “quaint” craftsmanship over industrial modularity, given the impersonality and economic depredation the latter seems to engender.

          2. Well, yes, but that’s the problem isn’t it? Everyone has the answer in their own mind. Unfortunately these days it appears to be life-size lego sets for the most part.

        3. He doesn’t have to look at either the Shard or the Gherkin. They are not visible from Buckingham Palace, but they are from my flat. I would prefer the Shard any day to living in Poundbury on a diet of organic biscuits. Charles seems to be living in some sort of eighteenth century aristocratic fantasy.
          I am wondering if the angularity and sharpness of the Shard is a deliberate response to the roundness and curvature of the Gherkin.

        4.  But his opinion is not a critical one.  He talks about the building as an afterthought using it as a device to culturally critique England in what seems to be mostly a xenophobic rant.
          I wish he’s talk about the architecture but I don’t think he knows enough to say anything more than: I don’t like it, it’s pointy.

    2. In that vein, has anybody heard from ‘Poundsbury’ lately?

      I’d be quite interested to have some real-world data back about whether Charles is a crabby reactionary with the good fortune to live during a period of severely questionable taste, or whether he can actually pull it off in creation as well as criticism…

      (I’m honestly not sniping here, I’ve just heard almost nothing, pro or con, about the place since it was mentioned that it was moving off the drawing board and into production.)

    3.  My first thought was to wonder if Charles was going to commandeer a 747 and pull a WTC on it.

  7. In its current state, the Shard looks a bit too much like the Citadel from Half Life 2 for my liking. 

    Looks imposing in a cold, aliens-have-melded-with-humans-to-take-over-the-earth sort of way.

    1. If memory serves, the Citadel was at least 100% powered by an extremely advanced renewable energy source of some kind, thoughtfully provided by our benefactors.

      Plus, Civil Protection may have been a mixture of petty thugs and transhuman monstrosities; but they weren’t outsourced to G4S!

  8. Actually, for the symbolism to be perfect they should have built it upside down, penetrating a block of middle-class flats.

    1. It is the right way up so we can stick the heads of the 1% on the top when they are no longer needed.

    1. I bet there’s a rail going down the building for the window washing platform, which could just as easily house an evacuation apparatus. 

  9. So “everything that’s wrong with the world” is:
    1) People invest in real estate to make money off the real estate itself rather than actually occupying it with their own business.  Is this something new?   And what exactly is the problem here?  That the author didn’t realize people invested in real estate until he saw this building?

    2) Most of the people who work in this super expensive building are going to be rich people.   Shocking.

    3) A lot of the investment is foreign money, but because it’s coming into real estate and not other kinds of investment it supposedly doesn’t benefit common Londoners.  Would he rather they just keep the money in their home countries?  Also, what about all the workers who are building the darn thing?  Are they not benefiting?  Is the government (and therefore the common people) not benefiting from all the tax revenue that will be produced by this thing?

    Also, this guy’s name is Aditya Chakrabortty and he’s complaining about foreigners changing the face of London.   I’m going to go out on a limb and make an assumption that his parents (or maybe his grandparents) were immigrants.  The difference between the Chakraborttys and the Qataris whose money built this monstrosity is that the Chakraborttys brought human capital while the Qataris brought financial capital.  But both ultimately chose to invest in England, and both had an effect on the country.  

    Criticize the building for being ugly or out of context or whatever.  But the idea that it’s a symbol for everything that’s wrong with the world is silly.

    1. I had a similar thought: if this is a microcosm of everything that’s wrong in the world, then maybe we’re not doing so badly, after all. That or the author has no perspective on the real problems out there. It’s not like this a tower of malnutrition / shortage of potable water / genocide / [would go on for a while before I got to overdesigned high rise in urban core].

  10. You don’t like that the people who own the buildings never visit?  King Richard spent very little time in England, but everyone loves him.

    1. They do? I never liked him. About as crap a folklore hero in Britain as that arsehole Sir Lancelot.

    2. Thanks to too much Disney at a young age I also have a problem picturing him as a real person instead of a lion. I guess there’s some sort of lesson there about not taking everything at face value.

  11. OMG foreigners!! Spending their filthy, strangely-colored money in our country without so much as a by-your-leave! Why doesn’t the National Front do something?!

    …I usually think of this kind of knee-jerk xenophobia as uniquely American, but of course intellectually I know it exists everywhere. But in a respectable newspaper such as The Guardian? I shall write the editor at once!

  12. This article is emblematic of everything that’s wrong with a certain philosophy, the philosophy of “it’s offensive on an emotional/artistic level in a way I can’t really put a finger on, so I’ll rationalize my disgust in nonsensical economic, social justice terms.”

     I think this is also really at the heart of many environmentalists dislike of industry.  A factory or refinery are usually pretty ugly things, especially for creative/emotional types, and all their opposition flows from their gut reaction to that ugliness.  The fact that we’d all live poorer, cruder, shorter lives without them isn’t even considered.  I want as clean air, water and food as can be reasonably had, but every choice has its trade off.  Freedom and commerce gives us our standard of living, but it also means you have to put up with ugly crap now and then.

    1. I love the Guardian like the next guy and I think it’s one of the best newspapers in the world. But after reading things like:

      “The cash hasn’t gone into productive enterprises that will benefit or employ ordinary Londoners.”

      then I really need to give myself a dose of Telegraph just out of spite.

      Also amused as a long time foreign resident of London (currently on hiatus) that the author sounds a tad bit xenophobic. Because what makes this the greatest city in the world (take this NY!) is not the bankers or the weather but the diversity of its people.

    2. freedom and commerce are not the semantic, moral or economic synonyms for the current class of “financial service” businesses or their leaders.

      i’ll take all the freedom and commerce i can get, in ugly buildings or otherwise. but that does not require me to simply say “yes, sir” to whatever the rentier class demands, plans or simply does.

      likewise, one can also accept that (e.g.) oil refinerys are ugly, polluting things, but necessary and useful. doing so does not stop you from seeking to position them well away from people, and to the extent that people are exposed to the dangers they present, treat them with compassion and justice rather than view them as a poor underclass (which they typically are) whose situations do not matter.

  13. First, it merely confirms how far the core of London is becoming, in industrial terms, a one-horse town.

    What impresses me most about the article is how epically bad that sentence is.

    1. No, no. It is the best sentence in the whole article for the complete incongruity of the images it provokes.

      1. According to google trends, interest in sharts has been constant troughout the United States, with a huge spike at the start of 2010. Not a single search for “shart” originated in the United Kingdom.

        Until today.

  14. It’s rather a contradictory article I find:

    “So one of London’s most identifiable buildings will have almost nothing to do with the city itself. Even the office space rented out at the bottom is intended for hedge funds and financiers wanting more elbow room than they can afford in the City or Mayfair. ”

     So it has nothing to do with the city itself because it’s about finance. 

    “First, it merely confirms how far the core of London is becoming, in industrial terms, a one-horse town. Finance, which began in the Square Mile, has now spread to Docklands to the east, to Mayfair in the west and now to the South Bank.”

    London’s all about finance lately. 


  15. “A study from Cambridge University last year, Who Owns the City?” 

    I was curious on the source of that comment, “52% of the City’s offices are now in the hands of foreign investors – up from just 8% in 1980.”.

    Where I am, there’s an somewhat interest in accounting foreign ownership of residential single detach homes.  There’s no data, no tracing of ownership details, and any serious attempt concludes that the matter is too complex to see if the ownership is foreign or not.

  16. London is the antithesis of urban planning. It has grown organically incorporating towns and villages as it has expanded with no discernible street plan or architectural style. Everything from late 11th century to 21st century architecture can be found within a few miles. If it all just blended in and was not imposing people would complain just as much. Londoners soon grow to love their new buildings. Perhaps the antagonism between Prince Charles and the architects derives from the fact that they are both trying to impose order where none is wanted.

  17.  Architects these days are a far cry from Le Corbusier – the damage of organised grid like suburbs is well realised. It is recognised that a city should be grown, not merely plotted, but try telling that to the developers. Organised developments yield money, and really, architects are not the force behind those, they are simply employed by the developers and given a set of requirements.

    Prince Charles is using a posotion of power to leverage his own reactionary rhetoric. The Queen does not advise on economic policy, the Duchess of Cornwall does not venture advice on large scale fishing practices. Why people give Prince Charles any credence is beyond me.

  18. Lucky for us Londoners, it also signals our long awaited property bubble correction. That is if the Skyscraper index is applicable here.

  19. This article is so right on. This building has nothing to do with humanity, but a lot in common with d-bags flexing their muscle so ones that have something human left in them could be more disquisted and scared of what’s to come

  20. Oh come on, this is the normal Guardian left wing hand wringing at its worst.

    The shard is crap because it is an inefficient shape for an office block, that is it.  Is that design or planning requirements, I have no idea.

    What do you expect for an office block in the middle of London, a coal mine on the ground floor with hearty workers beating metal on floors 2-5?  Please get real.

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